Key component for Navy helicopter produced in Somerset
By BILL MARDIS, Editor Emeritus Commonwealth Journal
The “skull” protecting the “brains” for the U.S. Navy’s next-generation MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter is being made in Somerset.
Called a Faraday cage, the 50-pound aluminum protective shield is manufactured by Summit Aviation for Northrop Grumman Corporation, prime contractor for the U.S. Navy’s Fire Scout program. The protective cages store and shield the aircraft’s critical electronic components from strong electric fields, electromagnetic waves and lightning.
Production is already under way. On January 4, Summit shipped the first Faraday cage to Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss.
Ralph Kunz, vice president and general manager of Summit Aviation, said the current contract is for 30 of the unmanned helicopters, each with a Faraday cage.
“This contract will triple the income of Summit Aviation,” Kunz said. The Somerset company, with a current workforce of 17, has added six new positions and expects to add more jobs. He said the positions provide “ ... a good, solid middle class pay scale.”
Kunz predicted additional contracts for MQ-8C helicopters and indicated Summit Aviation will continue to make Faraday cages for Northrop Grumman.
“Adding Faraday cage to Fire Scout will provide the Navy with improved accessibility and maintainability by centrally locating key critical avionics components and protect the electronic equipment from outside electrical interference,” said George Vardoulakis, vice president for tactical unmanned systems with Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector.
Vardoulakis was among a crowd of Northrop and Summit brass and employees who gathered with local, state and national officials Tuesday morning in the terminal at Lake Cumberland Regional Airport to celebrate the unique addition to Pulaski County’s manufacturing community.
“I sometimes refer to this area as ‘Silicon Hollow,’” laughed Congressman Hal Rogers. His comment was obviously a reference to Summit and Valley Oak Technology Complex, a 150-acre regional business park on Ky. 461 designed to attract knowledge-based technology intensive companies.
“These are big names,” Rogers continued, alluding to Northrop Grumman and Summit. “These are great recommendations for other companies looking at our area. Faraday cages are “ ... pretty complicated pieces of work ... adding to the lure of the area.”
“This equipment saves lives,” Rogers emphasized. The (MQ-8C unmanned helicopter) does not require a pilot. The helicopter provides the Navy with increased range by more than a third, doubles endurance and increases payload capacity by 50 percent. It is designed to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces. Fire Scout is currently deployed on Navy frigates and in Afghanistan.
Northrop Grumman Corporation, headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, is an American global aerospace and defense company. It employs more than 75,000 people worldwide.
Summit Aviation, a Greenwich AreoGroup subsidiary, has been in Somerset since 2007. It operates in a building leased from Lake Cumberland Regional Airport.